Depending on who you ask, Takeoff is either the most underrated or least distinctive member of Migos. After all, the 24-year-old has been notably absent from two of the Atlanta trio’s biggest musical moments to date: their 2016 megahit ‘Bad and Boujee’ (although Takeoff will always dispute the notion that he missed out on that one; see his heavily-memed quote “do it look like I’m left off ‘Bad and Boujee’?”) and Calvin Harris’ ‘Slide’, the chart-slaying collaboration with Frank Ocean and Takeoff’s bandmates Quavo and Offset.
Takeoff, for his part, has appeared largely reluctant to enter the glaring limelight of the mainstream ever since Migos’ global explosion in the past couple of years, leaving it instead to his bandmates to court the kind of attention (Madonna co-signs, rap beefs, Offset’s marriage to Cardi B) that has come hand-in-hand with fame. That’s not to underestimate Takeoff’s overall contribution to Migos; his indelible impact on the group’s rapping style and longevity speaks for itself. He led the development of Migos’ now-trademark triplet cadence in the group’s early days, and momentarily stepped up to the plate as co-frontman when Offset was incarcerated in both 2013 and 2015.
Nonetheless, Migos’ recent decision to each release solo records prior to the expected arrival of ‘Culture III’ in early 2019 has handed Takeoff the perfect opportunity to reintroduce himself as a force to be reckoned with. And he’s already scoring points before you even put the record on, as ‘The Last Rocket’’s relatively modest 12-track length is mercifully short for a Migos-affiliated project (especially in comparison to the group’s last studio album, which consisted of 24 tracks and was memorably derided by one critic as “a data dump”).
The record’s 35-minute duration feels typical of Takeoff’s more humble approach to business, and, while he does occasionally play it rather safe (see the by-the-numbers brag’n’trap of ‘Soul Plane’ and the drowsy lead single ‘Last Memory’), his debut solo album still manages to more or less prove that, given the chance, Takeoff is capable of standing out on his own.
Unfortunately, his executive decisions must be questioned when it’s revealed that one of ‘The Last Rocket”s two guest features happens to be his fellow Migo and uncle – yes, uncle – Quavo on ‘She Gon Wink’. It’s a bright but essentially pedestrian cut, dominated so much by Quavo that it feels like a scrapped track from the recently-released the rapper’s own solo album ‘Quavo Huncho’.
Once Takeoff wrestles back control of the mic, we have more glimpses of the character of the album’s creator. “Some people let the money change ‘em / And I’d still rather be rich than be famous,” he declares on ‘None To Me’.
While it may not be the most game-changing of sentiments, this ties in with the lyrical introspection scattered across ‘The Last Rocket’. On ‘Casper’, Takeoff takes time out from recounting his wild tales of success (and providing us with an inventory of his expensive possessions) to touchingly memorialise his late grandmother, Meanwhile, ‘Bruce Wayne’ sees him acknowledge his insecurity, as he admits that – yes – even rappers get stage-fright, too. These are moments of reflection and humanity that are so often brushed over in the brusque, one-upmanship world of hip-hop, and it’s refreshing to hear Takeoff get so candid. As he puts it on ‘Bruce Wayne: “You gotta know me to understand me”.
The stand-out moment that ensures that ‘The Last Rocket’ shouldn’t be dismissively filed away in the voluminous Migos back catalogue comes, however, on the loved-up ‘Infatuation’. Featuring wailing harmonies from the album’s other guest artist, Dayytona Fox, this funky R&B cut materialises so surprisingly on ‘The Last Rocket’ that you almost have to check to see if you haven’t mistakenly skipped to another artist. Takeoff, who memorably tells a love interest here that he “miss[es] you so much that I went and tatted your name“, demonstrates an ability to transpose his talents into new area; this track comes from the Calvin Harris school of post-disco.
It may not bother the charts in quite the same way as ‘Slide’ did, but it’s more than enough to remind us that we should dismiss Takeoff, the solo artist, at our peril.